Alumni of the University at Buffalo swimming and diving team are banding together to try to save the program, and one prominent alumnus says he is taking legal action against his alma mater.
UB’s men’s swimming and diving team was one of four sports eliminated by the university in a decision announced on April 3 aimed at trimming $2 million from the athletic department budget.
Richard J. Lydecker, who competed for UB as a diver and graduated in 1988, says he is in the process of filing a lawsuit against UB on behalf of six swimmers, demanding the university pay expenses incurred in transferring to another school.
Lydecker is senior partner in the law firm of Lydecker/Diaz, which has offices in Miami, New York and throughout Florida. He donated $15,000 to the swim team the past two years and has signed a commitment to give a total of $50,000 to the program. He aims to get his money back and a release from his donor contract.
“It is my opinion that a court could determine that the swim/dive program alumni fundraising was highly improper and actionable,” Lydecker wrote in a letter published in the UB Spectrum newspaper. “Personally, I feel as if I have been defrauded.”
“I’m filing right now notice of intentions to bring a claim, which is how the university system works,” Lydecker told The News. “You have to put them on notice. We’re hopeful the university will step up and do the right thing. If not, that’s what the court system is for.”
Taking UB to court is not Lydecker’s primary goal. He and fellow swim alumni want to convince UB President Dr. Satish K. Tripathi to agree to a two-year delay of the elimination plan. That delay, the alumni say, would give them time to develop a funding plan to try to save the swim program.
“I believe we need to give the kids a chance to try to finish the careers they’ve been working for their whole lives,” Lydecker said. “And we need to give the alumni a chance to step up and come up with some program to make this work.”
UB’s decision to cut men’s swimming, baseball, men’s soccer and women’s rowing is effective at the end of this semester.
There are roughly 600 living UB swimming and diving alumni. Some of them began organizing efforts soon after the decision was announced.
“I’ve been in contact with hundreds of our alumni,” said Jennifer Vaughan-LeForce, a former UB swimming team captain who graduated in 1997 and then got a master’s degree from UB in 2000.
“We’re in the process of getting a 503c” non-profit organization “up and running But we want to talk to the administration," said Vaughan-LeForce, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I want to be clear: Our goal is to partner with the university. Had we known there was an issue, we’d have been working to put an endowment in place for years.”
In response to the alumni organizing, UB released the following statement to The News: “The university has had previous discussions with alumni of the men’s swimming and diving program about their interest in endowing the program. As yet, the alumni have not presented an endowment plan but the university is certainly willing to meet with them and discuss their proposal.”
Some alumni organized a fact-finding meeting and conference call with UB Athletic Director Allen Greene on April 18. They said they were told a cutback in athletic spending had been contemplated for up to five years. They did not come away encouraged.
Joel Shinofield, executive director of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, flew from his office in Norfolk, Va., to attend the meeting. He thinks UB has untapped fund-raising potential among its swimming alumni.
“They’ve really never been asked to provide financial support, to provide guidance for the program, to provide any sort of resource for the institution for moving the program forward,” Shinofield said. “I think that’s a pretty significant miscalculation for a university.”
The annual expenses for the men’s swim program were $516,000 in 2016, according to federal documents. That includes money for about six full scholarships. It does not factor in the tuition that UB gets from roughly 20 other team members. (In reality, the six scholarships get spread out among numerous team members).
How much fund-raising would cause the UB administration to reconsider?
Shinofield said covering a significant amount of the annual expenses is feasible for an alumni base the size of the UB swim program’s if the university is willing to OK a 10-year build-up of endowment money.
“To ask for that chunk all at once would be an unreasonable ask,” Shinofield said. “To put together a plan where there was continued annual support and the building up of an endowment over time is an attainable goal, and it’s one that serves the university’s interests.”
Meanwhile, members of the UB swim team held a sit-in for about an hour Monday outside Tripathi’s office. Two of the swimmers then met with the UB president for about 20 minutes.
"We understand how deeply disappointed our student-athletes and coaches are regarding the reduction in our athletic programs," UB said in a statement after the sit-in. "This very difficult decision was made because of the unfortunate reality that we no longer have the resources to support 20 competitive Division I athletic teams. We are diligently working to provide our student-athletes with the support they need during this transition."